I’m nobody’s bandwagon-jumper. As the heat on Scotland's head coach Craig Levein is turned up, mine may be one of many voices crying out that he’s not up to the job, but far from being a Johnny-Come-Lately, I’ve been presenting the case for him not being fit for purpose since before he was appointed. Now, I present the miserable Scottish draw against Macedonia as the final piece of evidence that Levein really must go.
Levein has never achieved anything above minimum expectation level.
Ludicrous as it may sound in this context, I’m also not generally one of the ‘sack the manager’ brigade, but this time things have gone too far. Scotland’s performance was, frankly, abject. From the first whistle, Macedonia played with more belief, more conviction and more desire to win – in fact there was really only one team actually trying to win the game. They were rewarded with Noveski’s goal after just 11 minutes and they could easily have got the three points their attitude deserved. Scotland by contrast played as if driven by the fear of defeat rather than the desire for victory - an accusation that could be levelled at almost every Scotland side Levein has put out. Negative. Lacking ambition. Unsure. All these are terms that have been used to evaluate Scotland’s recent outings.
Yes, Scotland created the odd chance, but so did a team ranked 50 places below them in the FIFA rankings. When Scotland’s chances came, they were executed with an utter lack of conviction. James Morrison is not exactly Maradona, but he at least normally plays with confidence and a little swagger, so to see him sclaff tamely from close range is indicative of the mentality of Levein’s side. You could almost see the panic in his eyes as the ball arrived.
Negative. Lacking ambition. Unsure. All these are terms that have been used to evaluate Scotland’s recent outings.
James Mackie and James Forrest showed all-too-sporadic flashes of the right stuff, and Allan McGregor bailed Scotland out on a few occasions, but overall pass-marks were pretty hard to find. And yet these are decent players. The current squad plies its trade at a higher club level than any Scotland pool for well over a decade but they simply don’t turn up when they wear the dark blue. In this case they let the talented, but hardly world class, Goran Pandev make them look like Sunday league players. The coach has to carry the can for that.
All this brings back the question I’ve been asking since Day 1. Why the hell was Levein given the job in the first place? His CV highlights are respectable league finishes for Hearts and Dundee United. So what? The level he had those clubs at is simply the level they should be at. You shouldn’t be rewarded with a bigger job for achieving that – you should be sacked for not achieving it. Levein has never achieved anything above minimum expectation level. Often below; just ask Leicester City fans. Sadly, the same is so far true of his Scotland tenure.
So where does this leave us? In terms of qualification, forget it. Two points from two home games isn’t enough. Optimists will say that there are still 24 points to play for, that it’s a cut-throat group which will see a lot of draws, and that there’s a long way to go. These are all valid arguments, but the real reason why it won’t happen is because now that we’ve dropped four points that should have been in the bank, Scotland will have to pull off the types of results that Levein teams just don’t get. They will have to go to Croatia, Belgium and Serbia and come back with something positive. Given that we can’t even be positive at Hampden Park against relative minnows, this is just a pipe dream. Scotland have as much chance of qualifying as Joey Barton does of winning Sports Personality of the Year. It’s over.
All this brings back the question I’ve been asking since Day 1. Why the hell was Levein given the job in the first place? His CV highlights are respectable league finishes for Hearts and Dundee United. So what?
So what now? Well, Craig Levein must, and surely will, be replaced forthwith. The usual arguments about there being no stand-out candidates to replace him with are irrelevant since there was nothing stand-out about Levein in the first place. Alex McLeish is currently unemployed and despite his disasters since, his track record with Scotland was pretty reasonable. There is sure to be some kind of clamour for his return, albeit that it won’t be universal.
Next? Get rid of the flops, the under-achievers and the old guard. Kenny Miller, despite scoring a tap-in that my Gran would have scored (and she’s dead), is not the answer up front. Regarded by some as a safe pair of hands, he has shown time and time again that mediocrity and hard work are all he offers. That’s not enough for a side with designs on taking part in major tournaments. Gary Caldwell is not good enough. He may be experienced, but if that experience has not yet taught him where to stand at a setpiece and not to pass to the opposition, then what good is it? To be fair to Levein, he has blooded new players, but with all the caution and lack of adventure you’d expect of him. Exhibit A – the pitiful amount of minutes given to Jordan Rhodes in the last two games.
Scotland have as much chance of qualifying as Joey Barton does of winning Sports Personality of the Year. It’s over.
Since we’re effectively out of the tournament anyway, why not bring in the young players and make them the backbone of the side? It’ll prepare them for the next qualifying tournament, and who knows; maybe they’ll provide that missing belief and adventure – the type that Macedonia showed at Hampden. And, though it’s a long shot, maybe they can even play with the requisite lack of fear to get those big, positive results that could put us back in contention for Brazil.
As for the current side and the man leading it? What more evidence do you need than Tuesday night? The prosecution rests.
You can follow John Clarke on Twitter,@johnclarke1
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